With Hot Recruiting Start, Rodney Terry Positioning UTEP for Long-Term Success

By Kevin Sweeney

In the days following UTEP’s hire of Rodney Terry to replace Tim Floyd as head basketball coach, I graded the hire a B+.

I’m already regretting not going much higher.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a first-year coach with more early momentum than Terry. Since departing Fresno State this March in a move that surprised many, Terry has laid a groundwork for winning for years to come while reinvigorating a fanbase that had long been frustrated with Floyd’s inability to bring the consistent success they had come to expect during the Don Haskins era.

Terry entered a near-impossible position from a roster standpoint. 3 key senior talents graduating, younger players transferring, and the rest of the old staff’s recruiting class departing for other collegiate homes. In front of him was 9 open scholarships late in the 2018 recruiting process, with the team in need of a talent injection for both the coming season and beyond.

Yet Terry has managed the roster masterfully, with the help of a strong staff with a rolodex of recruiting contacts throughout not just Texas but the entire country (and beyond). Former San Diego head coach Lamont Smith is the biggest name on staff, a experienced recruiter who had begun a big turnaround with the Toreros before off-court trouble led to his departure this Spring. Terry also brought over assistants Nick Matson and Brian Burton with him from Fresno State, with Burton bringing strong Texas recruiting connections and Matson providing experience from his work across the country. That staff has allowed the Miners to hit the ground running on the recruiting trail.

The first domino to fall was physical big man Efe Odigie, a Houston native who elected to follow Terry from Fresno State, where he had signed originally. Next was Nigel Hawkins, a scoring guard with multiple high-major offers who committed shortly after visiting in late April. Terry then landed Deon Stroud, a former 2019 prospect with several Mountain West offers who elected to reclassify to 2018 and #JoinTheMovement a year early. The most recent prep prospect to pop for Terry and company was high-upside Canadian big man Kaosi Ezeagu, who held offers from Butler and South Carolina but chose the Miners instead. The only miss by Terry’s new staff was Rivals top 150 recruit Isaac Likekele, a former Fresno State commit who elected to head to Oklahoma State instead.

And while Terry’s ability to put together a strong freshman class in such a short amount of time deserves credit, the work he has put in on the transfer market is even more impressive. He’s earned a pair of pledges in NJIT transfer wing Anthony Tarke (15 points, 6 rebounds per game) and former San Francisco guard Souley Boum (10 points per game, WCC All-Freshman selection), and had Fresno State transfer big man Bryson Williams (13 points, 6 rebounds per game) on campus for a visit this weekend. With 3 scholarships still available, Terry still has plenty of room to add talent to the roster for this year and beyond.

One key reason for Terry’s early success and momentum has been his ability to excite and connect with the strong UTEP fanbase, one that averaged well over 6,000 fans per game in the 2016-17 season (most recent NCAA Attendance Report available). The Miners have used Twitter as their friend, with Miners fans and coaches constantly tweeting with hashtags like #BlueCollarMentality, #JoinTheMovement, and #NewEraUTEP.

Social media is a huge area that more teams need to focus on exploiting, and UTEP is the perfect example of this. Twitter is a great way to connect fans and get them excited about the upcoming season, and I expect to see a lot of massive crowds filling the Don Haskins Center for years to come. If the recruiting momentum continues, it won’t be long before UTEP establishes itself as a perennial contender for Conference USA titles and NCAA Tournament berths.

Sorry about the lack of content on the site recently, I’ve been super busy. Will be ramping things up for the summer soon!

Nevada Showing Top-To-Bottom Effort Necessary to Become Elite

By Kevin Sweeney

When UT-Arlington fired head coach Scott Cross in stunning fashion earlier this Spring, I went on a rant (to put it kindly) blasting their decision. UTA Athletic Director Jim Baker reportedly had clashed with Cross on multiple occasions about Cross’s inability to turn the Maverick program into “The Next Gonzaga”. My criticism was simple– becoming the next Gonzaga, Xavier, Butler, or Wichita State takes more than simply an elite coach. Obviously, those programs needed their Mark Few, Pete Gillen, Brad Stevens (or Barry Collier) or Gregg Marshall to ascend to the level that they are at now, but it takes a top-to-bottom effort, from the president of the school all the way down to the fans, to build a program and a culture with staying power at the elite level of college basketball.

Nevada has found their elite coach. Now, can they establish themselves as the next elite mid-major program? Yesterday, in the aftermath of the Jordan Brown commitment, I saw yet another reason why I believe they will.

The hashtag #RiseAndShinePack was all over my Twitter feed yesterday morning, as coaches and their wives shared videos of themselves celebrating landing the McDonald’s All-American Brown.

It was a fun, humorous way to celebrate the news, while also engaging the entire fanbase to tweet out how they celebrated the news. It was the latest great marketing play by the Wolf Pack as they become the new “sexy” name in college basketball.

From the embrace of Twitter to their wide variety of jerseys to the big raise and contract extension Musselman received after last season, Nevada is doing everything right on the path to continued success. Between the fun brand of basketball that the Wolf Pack play and the variety of efforts to connect with the fanbase, ticket sales have spiked, as have donations to the program. Those increases in revenue without a doubt play a big role in Nevada’s ability to pay Musselman, who received a raise from his $400k salary to over $1 million after winning the Mountain West title in 2017.

Obviously, Musselman’s time in Reno may not last forever. UCLA head coach Steve Alford has struggled to live up to the program’s lofty expectations, and a program with the facilities, money, and pedigree like UCLA may prove enough to draw Musselman away from Reno should that job open up. Without a doubt, his name will be mentioned in connection with every major job opening for as long as he remains the Pack’s head coach. However, Nevada is positioned to capitalize on this run of success in a way that other programs that have flirted with national prominence (including this very same Nevada program just 10 years ago).

The biggest factor in college basketball remains money, and Nevada still needs work in that area. Not only do they lag far behind the powers I mentioned before, but they lag behind much of the Mountain West in basketball spending as well (though that number doesn’t factor in the significant raise for Musselman).

 

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All data in the chart is per ESPN college basketball analyst Mark Adams’ Facebook post (data from 2016–17 year. 

That said, with ticket sales rising drastically and potential for significant NCAA Tournament revenue coming down the road, the time seems right for the Wolf Pack administration to ramp up spending. They’ve already invested in a brand-new practice facility, thanks in no small part to a $1 million gift from Pack alum Ramon Sessions. Still, that top-to-bottom commitment from everyone from the biggest figures atop the university to boosters to even the Wolf Pack fans who follow me on Twitter.

Potentially replacing Musselman is possible– Nevada AD Doug Knuth has made strong hires in football, women’s basketball, and men’s basketball all in his relatively short tenure in Reno. Butler and Xavier have consistently lost their coaches to bigger programs but have a culture of hiring great coaches and not missing a beat.

The one hurdle that can’t be overcome long-term is money. If Nevada hopes to be the next Gonzaga, they must avoid the same mistakes that countless other programs have made.